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Sotheby’s Addresses Labor, Governance at Annual Meeting

Sotheby's Art Handlers
Picketing Sotheby's art handlers before the auctioneer's May 8 annual shareholders meeting. Art handlers have been locked out since July 29. Photographer: Philip Boroff/Bloomberg

Sotheby’s defended its labor practices and corporate governance at the auctioneer’s annual meeting, as shareholders and union members pressured it to resolve a nine-month lockout of art handlers.

“The plans are to do our best at the bargaining table,” Board Chairman Michael Sovern said at the hour-long meeting. “It does take two, you understand.”

Sovern said extra security and temporary labor costs haven’t been “material” and are less burdensome in the long term than acceding to contract demands of Local 814 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Jason Ide, president of the union, has called Sotheby’s an inflexible negotiator.

While shareholders endorsed management’s recommendations on all proposals, Sotheby’s General Counsel Gilbert Klemann announced that a Teamsters proposal opposing automatic executive payouts in a takeover got 39 percent of votes. The Teamsters had said immediately vesting some stock-payment plans amounts to a “golden parachute” that disregards executive performance.

In his prepared remarks, Sovern thanked former director James Murdoch, who “served with distinction” on the board for two years. Ide asked Sovern why Sotheby’s stuck with News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer during the initial months of that company’s phone-hacking scandal.

“Murdoch was never charged with any wrongdoing,” Sovern said, later adding that Murdoch made a presentation to the board’s nominating and governance committee “conveying his innocence.” Murdoch resigned from the board in March.

Five art handlers who own shares in Sotheby’s attended the meeting. Thomas McAllister, who has worked at Sotheby’s for 23 years, contrasted its $171.4 million profit last year with his own finances since the July 29 lockout.

“My family isn’t doing well,” McAllister told Sovern. “There is not a party in my household.”

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